Taking sides

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  November 4, 2009

Even if voters did want someone like Pagliuca right now, they say, he would be mortally hampered in the Democratic primary by his former support for Republicans. And not just any Republican, but former Bain Capital head Mitt Romney.

Meanwhile, a new poll released this week from Western New England College Polling Institute shows that Pagliuca, virtually unknown a few weeks ago, has caught Capuano for second place.

Pagliuca’s advisors think that their guy has a real chance. To their view, the big issues on people’s minds — job creation, health care, and financial-industry reform — play directly into Pagliuca’s strength, which comes from buying, improving, and selling companies in a variety of industries, including health care. People just need to learn how good Pagliuca is on those topics, they argue — and since he’ll be spending upward of a half-million dollars a week on advertising, folks are going to learn.

“Steve’s candidacy starts with the premise that people are concerned with the lack of leadership on the economy,” says Will Keyser, Pagliuca’s communications director. “Voters are very concerned about the fact that, beyond the stimulus, there aren’t any other great ideas.”

Not that Pagliuca has been stressing such ideas himself — his ads thus far have been more introductory than issue-oriented. That’s by design, says Keyser, because voters need to first learn about Pagliuca more generally — and to believe that his values match their own, and not some greedy Wall Street stereotype.

So, Pagliuca is emphasizing his tale of rising from modest beginnings. He is also pushing his adherence to liberal litmus-test issues: gay marriage, abortion, gun control, education, and tax policy.

Strategically, his campaign is also tenaciously guarding issues it sees as definitively “his.” When Coakley put out a plan last week for financial-industry reform, for example, Pagliuca immediately released his own — and derided hers as inadequate and off base.

The game plan, then, is to convince voters that Pagliuca is ideologically indistinguishable from the other candidates — that is, reliably liberal — with the advantage of understanding complicated issues in a way the others cannot match.

But some political observers wonder why Pagliuca didn’t try to carve out a more centrist niche. With Coakley and Capuano arguing over who is most committed to Ted Kennedy’s liberal legacy — witness the recent debate over when Coakley became fully opposed to the death penalty — there would seem to be a wide opening to their right.

Perhaps that’s because Pagliuca really sees himself as a true-blue liberal. Or because the campaign expects the Democratic primary to be dominated by the left — although Keyser argues that the high-profile race may bring large numbers of moderates and independents out on December 8. In any event, whatever message Pagliuca decides to convey, at least the cash-rich candidate knows that everybody will hear it.

The fifth wheel
While the battle for the Democratic nomination is waged from four corners, a fifth column is emerging from the Republicans.

The beleaguered GOP has already twice inserted itself into the Democratic race. So far, the shots have been fired at Coakley, who, according to the polls, is the most likely general-election foe for Scott Brown, the party’s front-runner. First, the state party demanded — and got — a Federal Election Commission inquiry into Coakley’s campaign spending prior to her opening an official Senate-campaign committee. Then, early this week, Brown pounced on Coakley for saying, on WCVB-TV’s On the Record, that her foreign-policy credentials include having a sister living overseas.

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